19 years ago today I suffered one of the most terrifying experiences I’ve ever lived through. I woke up and found myself in the midst of a building fire. I was 19 and lived in a pub with my mum and 2 of my younger siblings (aged 6 and 4).
The morning of January 13th, 2001 my mum was sat in her office whilst my brother and sister played in another room, she had smelled burning and asked my 6 year old brother to pop upstairs to wake my boyfriend at the time (Mark) to ask him if he could see where the burning smell was coming from. Little did she know she was sending him to end up trapped with us as the fire spread rapidly up the first lot of stairs and engulfed the first floor, then quickly up the second set of stairs to my floor. I tried to get down but was beaten back by smoke. Mark then tried to get down and quickly realised we were now trapped and fighting for our lives.
I phoned 999 and the operator assured me help was already on its way, they’d had several phone calls already. As I hung up the phone and stood at the window there was a man who’d stopped his van and was also on his phone. I’ll never forget his face as he looked up and saw me stood at the window, he tried warning me the pub was on fire, i told him I already knew and that we couldn’t get out. There was a panicked look on his face as he told the person on the other end of the phone. I believe a 999 operater.
Around this time I heard sirens racing up the road behind the pub, the smoke had started entering my bedroom under the door, and from the blown out window underneath mine. We were being choked by thick black acrid smoke. I was screaming and trying to catch a breath of fresh air through the window but I couldn’t. I saw my mum being comforted by a lady from the local corner shop. She was visibly distraught but thankfully had got my 4 year old sister out. She thought she lost us that day.
The fire brigade quickly got a ladder and put it up to the window, unfortunately as I looked out desperate for help I saw they’d gone to the wrong window, they were at the window next door. I could hear the flames licking my door so there was no way we could get into that room. I made eye contact with a firefighter in BA who quickly got back down the ladder and it was quickly moved across to my window. By this point I’d accepted my fate. I accepted that that was how I was going to die. I sat down on the floor and an overwhelming sense of calm came over me. This was it. Then out of nowhere I got one last burst of energy to pull myself up to the window sill, and there was a masked face looking at me telling me to climb out quick. I have never moved as fast as I shot out that window 2 floors up (not bad for someone with a fear of heights), and he carried me down the ladder back into the fresh air. My brother had already been passed out to the second firefighter on the ladder. Mark was still inside shouting me, I shouted I was out and he climbed down above us in bare feet. As soon as my smoke filled lungs started to inhale fresh air again I started to go dizzy, I felt severely nauseous, at that moment I think my body had no idea what was going on. The firefighter ran to a waiting ambulance where I was treated for severe smoke inhalation symptoms. As I looked out the back of the open ambulance doors I watched a ball of fire fly out of one window and get sucked into my window where I’d stood just minutes earlier. I cried out. That would’ve killed me. The fire continued to burn as I was rushed on blue lights and sirens to the hospital.
I was taken to resus where I had blood tests and treatment for smoke inhalation. I was fortunate to be discharged later that day with a warning that I must return if I had any further symptoms. We later found out that thankfully our rescue dog, Lizzy, managed to escape the back door somehow. The back door was open which aided the spread of the fire but also helped our pet escape.
We had a brand new fire alarm system installed the week previous to our fire after ours started with a ‘fault’ which caused it to keep going off. We had the fire brigade out then to check for any hotspots in the walls etc but they found nothing. The same crew came to our actual fire which was later put down to an electrical fault.
It angers me that nowadays we still hear of people that do not have smoke alarms in their homes, especially when most, if not all, fire services will put them in higher risk homes free of charge, and if you don’t qualify for a freebie you can pick them up cheaply.
Don’t put your families lives at risk, have a smoke alarm at least on each floor, more if you can. Make a plan – I couldn’t believe the number of people I knew with children who had never discussed with their family what to do in the event of a fire. Tell your kids what to do, drill into them the escape route, and what to do it that’s blocked, teach them to stay low for cleaner air, tell them not to hide as my 4 year old sister did. You can find lots of fire plan tips on any fire service website – knowledge saves lives.
Be safe and I pray you never have to go through the trauma we did on January 13th, 2001.